FIH Series Finals 2019: Odisha's flawless hosting of big-ticket event sets template to manage cyclones and sports

Cyclones have been Odisha’s manic tormentors. Remember 1999? This time around Odisha could tame Fani. Even the usually sceptical The New York Times eulogised, “Government authorities in Odisha, along India’s eastern flank, hardly stood still. To warn people of what was coming, they deployed everything they had: 2.6 million text messages, 43,000 volunteers, nearly 1,000 emergency workers, television commercials, coastal sirens, buses, police officers, and public address systems.” An essay on the Australian website, The Conversation, stated, “Odisha’s ability to put such an effective disaster management plan in place and save thousands of lives is a template that the world can learn from.”

After the early applause, the Indian media shifted focus to rehabilitation. Given the scale of devastation, this doubtless required stupendous effort. Governments can’t do it all, but Indians are culturally inclined to back off from self-help. The government soldiers on, but where are our charitable instincts?

 FIH Series Finals 2019: Odishas flawless hosting of big-ticket event sets template to manage cyclones and sports

Despite being ravaged by Cyclone Fani, Odisha is back on feet, hosting FIH Series Finals. AFP

There is another area where the Odisha government got it right. The creation of world-class sporting infrastructure has been touted as a springboard for transformation. Doubters might call this the usual ploy of politicians. But Fani has turned perceptions upside down. It could have flattened Odisha’s sporting aspirations. The opposite happened. The stadia and high-performance centres of Bhubaneswar withstood Fani’s pulverisation. These structures are not Disneyland fantasies. In a country where bridges and homes collapse like ninepins because of shoddy construction, please note.

Fear of nature’s fury sets off panic and rumours. The Hockey Series Finals almost became a victim of Fani. But that didn’t happen. Odisha’s Sports Secretary Vishal Dev says, “This (the Hockey Series Finals) was to show the world the resilience of Odisha and its people and that we hounoured our commitment to host the event in a befitting manner.” The tournament would send out a very positive signal against despondency, he asserts.

The tournament is happening even while the state reels under Fani. Without reliable alternate means, the government’s human resource has shielded failure. The task was difficult. As Dev says: “You need a lot of manpower. All our officers were deployed in cyclone-affected districts and for election duties. By June the 10th we got our bearings.” We can assume that manic zeal might have driven the team behind this tournament.

The accumulated experience of hosting sporting events, too, helped. Dev says the organisation of the Asian Athletics Championships 2017 in 90 days gave invaluable insights into meeting tight deadlines. The drill was repeated for the Hockey Series Finals. In Bhubaneswar, I see no banners or decorations, just a functional order. More philosophically, this tournament displays the simplicity of the brave, the poignant offering of a calm and confident government, amid the sorrow and destitution around it. There is no celebratory feeling, as we saw at the World Cup in December. Just doing the event in adversity is the statement.

More broadly, Odisha is trying to put in place events, infrastructure, rewards and interventions to realise its sporting aspirations.

Bhubaneswar stole a march over rivals by hosting the FIH’s three elite tournaments in four years. Beyond hockey, Bhubaneswar’s CV for 2018 alone read an ISL game, the ITF Tennis Super Cup, the Asian Women’s U-17 Rugby Championships and the National Athletics Championships.

Unless there are facilities to train, sporting events turn into legacies that, without a context, fade away. More sustainable is drawing in elite athletes to train. With the involvement of Abhinav Bindra, Pullela Gopichand, Anil Kumble, and Gagan Narang, high-performance centres have been established in Athletics, Swimming, Shooting, Football, Hockey and Badminton. The state has 16 sports hostels with 1,250 athletes, covering 12 disciplines, with focus on football and hockey. The Odisha-SAI Regional Badminton Academy was established in 2017. 17 synthetic hockey pitches will be installed in Sundargarh.

At the inauguration of the High-Performance Centres in February, I heard paeans. “If there was ease of work for any sport in the country, Odisha would be number one,” said Gopichand. “All athletes thank you (the chief minister) for making Odisha the number one sporting state in India,” went Kumble. Col HS Chauhan, president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, said Bhubaneswar had “one of the best” sports climbing centres in India, adding, “the state administration is even more dynamic than the centre in the promotion of sport.”

Odisha Mining Corporation has sponsored the Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams for five years. Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation and Mahanadi Coalfield sponsored the Hockey India franchise, Kalinga Lancers, being the only central or state government bodies to do so.

The government has announced a cash award of Rs 1 crore for winning an Olympics gold medal. According to official figures, cash awards worth Rs 8.83 crores have been disbursed to 1,116 athletes, and equipment worth Rs 2.17 crores have been purchased in the last four years. 60 athletes have been appointed to the Odisha Police. In 2016, Srabani Nanda and Dutee Chand were appointed in OHPC and Odisha Mining Corporation.

To take the sport to underprivileged communities, 131,000 participated in the Tribal Sports Meet 2017. Under the Financial Assistance for Advanced Training and Coaching scheme, each athlete will be assessed by a committee, for an annual grant of Rs 5,00,000.

Facts and figures matter, but data can tie us in tangles. For take off, cultures need triggers, not statistics. Strong leadership, political stability and vision are the usual ingredients. The late president, Dr Abdul Kalam, wrote about this in his book Ignited Minds. Odias may finally be waking up to challenge the trope of underachievers stacked against them.

Mahendra Misra, the venerable Odia publisher, once astutely observed that Odisha was undone by communication grids. One gets into a train at Howrah, sleeps through the night as it passes Odisha, and wakes up in Andhra Pradesh, leading to Chennai, the hub of the Chola country. Kalinga’s greatness could not shift over to modern Odisha, because the British colonial project intervened. Odisha thus became the hinterland for the more storied Bengal. Creating a sports hub gives Odisha a chance to lead.

Jitendra Nath Misra is a former ambassador. He advises the government of Odisha on sports and teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2019 11:33:39 IST